Review by Solandia
"There is something indefinably enigmatic about Leonardo that fuels all kind of wild speculation, but you won’t find such speculation in this tarot. I have attempted to use his own words and images and let them speak… The images on these cards portray the range of Leonardo’s vast interests. Though they may be less familiar to us than the famous paintings, they are no less iconic."
The enigma of Leonardo Da Vinci - Renaissance man, engineer, artist, natural historian, philosopher, and thinker who created blueprints for manned flight, helicopters, the diving bell, and hydraulics (to name a few) and painted one of the most famous art images, the Mona Lisa - is the inspiration for the Da Vinci Enigma Tarot.
Caitlin Matthews, previously known for her Celtic-inspired Tarot works such as the Arthurian Tarot and the Celtic Wisdom Tarot, has branched out to research and create a profound and original Tarot set. The Da Vinci Enigma Tarot artwork is not just inspired by or in the style of Leonardo - these cards have illustrations from Leonardo’s own notebooks, drawings and writings, all carefully chosen to fit the Tarot archetypes.
"These tarot cards follow his curious and penetrating vision through his own words and drawings to look more deeply at how the macrocosm, the Greater World of the Eternal Cosmos, and the microcosm, the created world in which we live, meet and mingle."
The major arcana images have been chosen from the sketches and studies for Leonardo’s own paintings. The numbered minor cards are from his notebooks, "where he sketched his inventions, dissections, theories and observations about the natural world" and court cards are from drawings for "portraits, masques, and fantasies". The selected drawings very in size and have been placed against a white background.
There are some other changes from a standard Rider-Waite style deck. The minor arcana have suits that are purely elemental – Air, Fire, Earth and Water – and courts that match the Italian royalty of Leonardo’s time - Page, Knight, Lady and Lord. Some of the major arcana have been re-titled to better fit the Enigma theme. In order, they are:
0 – Fool
I – Magician
II – Enigma
III – Empress
IV – Emperor
V – Hierophant
VI – Twins
VII – Imagination
VIII – Strength
IX – Hermit
X – Time
XI – Experience
XII – Passover
XIII – Death
XIV – Temperance
XV – Pain and Pleasure
XVI – Deluge
XVII – Way-shower
XVIII – Conception
XIX – Birth
XX – Renewal
XXI – World
The sketches by Leonardo are simple, appearing to have been drawn in lead pencil on what is now aged-looking paper. The deck has quite a technical and mechanical bent, as the cards often depict blueprints, war machines and inventive devices, as well as portrait sketches. For example, the Nine of Water (Airborne) is a picture of a man in a flying machine (which seems appropriate for the wish card). In the Ten of Fire, men are moving a very large and heavy cannon and wooden contraption. The Two of Water depicts an anatomical union between a man and a woman, rather than an emotional or spiritual one. The images also have an impression of movement, which I noticed first in the Seven of Earth (Stamina). Here a draught horse is drawn stepping out, its actual shape in dark outline; lighter in shade, the position of the legs just a few moments earlier have been penciled in.
Physically, the cards are smooth-edged and have rounded corners. They are comparable in size to a Lo Scarabeo deck, perhaps a little wider. There are two extra cards included with the Da Vinci Enigma Tarot which are not the usual title or spread cards. One, The Enigma Pattern, pictures the complete pattern of silver-and-white knot work and three-dimensional Platonic solids on a dark red background that's made by the cards when face-down, which is intended to enable you to ‘read both connected and disconnected cards’. The other card, The Enigma Grid, illustrates their same order when placed face-up. The backs are not strictly reversible, given that put together they make an 80-card pattern, but the pattern elements are similar enough that they could function as reversible cards without much trouble.
The packaging is attractive: a matte silver two-piece box that holds the companion book above a cardboard insert that holds the cards and prevents them from slipping.
The book for the Da Vinci Enigma Tarot is 144 pages in length, divided into five chapters: a biography of Leonardo; an introduction to the use of the Enigma deck; explanations for the macrocosm and microcosm cards; and the Seat of the Soul (spreads and readings, based on the Vitruvian Man, Leonardo’s observations on cause and effect, and the Golden Ratio and Fibonacci sequence). The card meanings have several sections, three of which are unique to this deck:
Dimmi – (‘Tell me’) Offering relevant questions on the card.
Background – Card info and background in Leonardo’s life and works, or the card subject.
Soul-Code – "Reveals how the chosen card helps or challenges your soul’s destiny."
Upright/Reversed – Card meanings. "The meanings of the cards in the Da Vinci Enigma tarot have been personalized for the lone reader o wants to decode the enigma of the soul."
Disconnected – For difficult cards or one about which you have an ‘inner ambivalence’.
I drew a card to answer the question: what does this deck have to teach me?. The card drawn was the Page of Earth, an image of the Study of St Philip for the Last Supper. Two sentences in the book stood out: ‘Application and patient tenacity help bring the soul steadily along the path of destiny’, and ‘Work proceeds steadily from daily application’. I found this card and its interpretations to be very accurate – the deck doesn’t necessarily reveal its secrets via casual observation; while a little work and study brings results, and wisdom.
The more I look at these cards, the more connections I find between Leonardo’s drawings and the Tarot archetype they have been chosen to illustrate. The Da Vinci Enigma Tarot is a beautifully-made set, suitable for anyone with some basic Tarot experience and a little time to spend with Leonardo.
"These 78 cards create a portable notebook to help you explore the sacred proportions and divine harmony of the macrocosm, so that you can find balance and harmony in your everyday life."
Kate Hill (also known as Solandia) is the founder and editor of Aeclectic Tarot, and has reviewed more than 200 decks over the years.
Review by Sandra A. Thomson
I fell in love with this deck the way one engages with a lover. At first glance, he looks gorgeous and enticing. At second glance--well, conversation actually--he appears to have some depth worth exploring. By the third glance, I am, as Sister Wendy would say, "besotted."
At first glance through the deck, the illustrations and the titles for the cards are gorgeous, and I immediately wanted to know more. A second glance through the accompanying handbook told me that there would be a lot of depth in working with this deck. And by the third glance, well...
For Matthews, Tarot serves as "a way of preparing for the next moment by scrutinizing the present circumstances." So, why a deck about da Vinci? Matthews says that "Leonardo's pragmatism, his insistence upon clear and accurate observations, his distrust of speculation and his desire to extend the discoveries of the ancients by finding new pathways, have always spoken to me as the necessary requirements for a seer."
First glance: The 78 cards of the 4 & 3/4" by 3" deck are divided into the conventional 22 Major Arcana (Macrocosm Cards) and 56 Minor Arcana (Microcosm Cards), plus two extra cards, which are not used in reading but are referred to as the Enigma cards. They reveal how if the 80 cards are laid out in a certain order (The Enigma Grid), they reveal a certain pattern (The Enigma Pattern). Alas, the pictures of the card placement on the Enigma Grid card cannot be ascertained even with the use of a strong magnifying glass, so must be enclosed purely for background information.
The backs of each card present part of the elaborate gray and maroon Enigma Pattern, modified from a circular interwoven design created by da Vinci. They are used in one of the more advanced spreads to provide additional information. Suffice to say at this point, for those to whom this is important, the design is such that you are unable to tell whether a card is reversed or not.
Twelve cards in the Major Arcana receive new names. For instance, The High Priestess becomes The Enigma. The Wheel of Fortune becomes Time, while Justice (XI) becomes Experience. The Lovers card is now the Twins and the Chariot becomes Imagination.
The Four Minor Arcana suits become Air (for Swords), Fire (Wands), Water (Cups), and Earth (Pentacles. Illustrations for the Aces through Ten are taken from those drawings in da Vinci's notebooks that pertain to inventions, dissections, theories, and observations about the natural world. Illustrations for the court cards, named Page, Knight, Lady and Lord, are derived from da Vinci's drawings for portraits, masques, and fantasies. Explanations for the source of the Major Arcana cards are included in the description of the card.
Second glance: Section 1 of the 144-page handbook introduces us to a brief view of Leonardo da Vinci and his sense of himself as a disciple of experience. Section 2, Finding Your Way, explains the rationale for some of the changes that occur in the deck. There is also a brief subsection on how to formulate questions. Note that the meanings of the cards have been personalized for "the lone reader who wants to decode the enigma of the soul" and may need to be considered slightly differently if reading for another. Still want to know if Mikey wants to marry you? Choose another deck.
Matthews presents the idea of Guide Cards, which are the bottom cards on each of the three stacks into which you have cut the cards after shuffling. She uses them later in the more advanced spreads she has designed but not in the more simple spreads, so if this idea is new to you, pay attention. I first learned this technique some years ago from Rachel Pollack, who calls the three bottom cards Teacher Cards.
In Section 3 we begin to explore the Macrocosm Cards (Major Arcana) in depth. For each card there are the following subsections: (1) background information (relating the illustration to some aspect of da Vinci's life or thought), (2) soul-code (a message that reveals how the card helps or challenges your soul's destiny and can be used for meditation), (3) upright meanings, (4) reversed meanings, and (5) the disconnected meaning, which can act as a consultant when you find a card difficult, and which is also used in more in-depth spreads.
There is also one or more "dimmi" questions associated with each card. Matthews explains that da Vinci often wrote the phrase dimmi, or "tell me," in the margins of his notebooks. Answering them serves to engage you more deeply in understanding the issue about which you are reading. For instance, the dimmi for Card XVIII—usually The Moon, now renamed Conception and depicting the embrace of Leda and the Swan (Zeus in disguise) and the emergence of their newborn offspring from the swan eggs—asks, "What do your dreams tell you? What do you intuitively know about this situation, regardless of appearances?
Section 4, Microcosm Cards, deals with the 56 Minor Arcana cards and contains the same subsections as the Major Arcana, although more briefly, especially the background information.
Students often ask me what they need to consider in choosing a new deck. I suggest that in addition to a size that fits well in your hand, and appealing artistic renderings/colors, you should check the three Golden Dawn astrological cards that refer to you, as well as the illustrations for your personality and soul cards to determine if these "speak" to you.
I did this with my five cards (Hermit, Strength, Way Shower (Star), Lady of Air and Ten of Earth) and found them immensely pleasing to me, plus the soul-code information correlated with what I am currently working on in my spiritual life and gave me new ideas to ponder in my daily meditation. I suggest you do the same, which makes it important for you to see an open deck before purchasing not only this deck, but any other.
Third glance: Section 5, The Seat of the Soul, presents spreads to be used with this deck. For new readers, Matthews suggests beginning with some basic spread patterns and presents a two-card spread (Light and Shadow), three-card (The Cherry Tree), two four-card spreads (The Painter's Four Seasons and The Source) and a five-card Soul's Intentions spread.
Rest assured that the position names/descriptions do not match any previously "simple" spreads to which you are used to, and will guide you into delving more deeply into your question or issue. Even advanced readers will have fun with these.
Working with the more simple spreads with some care will prepare you for the two 10-card Vitruvian Man Spread and Cause and Effect Spread, the seven-card Divine Proportion Spread, and, finally, the piece de résistance, the very advanced Destiny Spread, in which you attend to both the face-up illustrations and the design on the backs of the drawn cards.
I suspect it will take even an experienced reader some time to get comfortable with these four advanced spreads, but, then, most of us will appreciate the challenge. Although sample readings are given for these four spreads, they are quite abbreviated and relatively simple, and a disappointment after the care and detail shown to other aspects of the deck. You're pretty much on your own here, although, of course, you have the detailed information about each card.
As is my style with a new deck, I shuffled the deck and drew two cards to answer the questions:
What more do you want me to know about you? Ace of Water
How can we work together? Page of Water
What does the deck want me to know about it? That it is a deck that will help me open myself to deep reflection in order to nourish my dreams and intuitive messages and to consider what is both irrigated and blocked in my life. I am to seek the nurture of beauty in all forms. It is interesting that in a recent psychic reading for me, the Ace of Cups was one of the cards drawn regarding my future work. Not a message to be ignored.
How can the deck and I work together? This is a card of reminding me to be devoted to my soul path and to consider what now needs my support on that journey. The upright meaning also says that I am "devoted, trustworthy and likeable, willing to be of service." Well, yes. How can I not work more with a deck that admires me so?